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Ailing president dies in hospital

President Malam Bacai Sanha, who was elected in the tiny, coup-prone nation of Guinea-Bissau on Africa's western coast about two years ago after the previous leader was assassinated, has died in Paris after a lengthy spell in hospital.

No immediate cause was given for his death, but the 64-year-old president was known to have diabetes and had undergone medical treatment in both France and neighbouring Senegal during his time in office.

National radio announced his death on Monday afternoon.

An official at Guinea-Bissau's embassy in Paris, Luis Mendes, said Mr Sanha died on Monday morning at the Val de Grace hospital after being in hospital in France "for about a month" with an unspecified ailment, Mr Mendes said.

The head of the National Assembly, Raimundo Pereira, is again expected to take over until new elections can be organised. He has already served as interim head of state after the 2009 assassination of former president Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira.

Officials declared seven days of mourning. They did not say when elections might be held.

Since independence from Portugal in 1974, the nation has been wracked by coups and has become one of the main transit points for drug traffickers ferrying cocaine to Europe. Just two weeks ago, the army said a top military official had attempted unsuccessfully to seize power while Mr Sanha was ill.

Mr Sanha won the 2009 presidential election held after Mr Vieira's death, a peaceful transition of power that marked a rare bright spot for Guinea-Bissau.

He became less known for what he did as president than for his frequent spells in hospital abroad, which were always described by aides as routine check-ups. In August 2009, he spent nearly three weeks in hospital in Dakar, the capital of neighbouring Senegal, where medical facilities are better equipped than in Bissau.

A diplomat said at the time that the president had become a regular visitor in Dakar, arriving on a special flight each time his blood sugar was out of balance. And a veteran observer with close ties to the president's entourage described the illness as "advanced diabetes" combined with a haemoglobin problem.

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